How To Respond To A Mean Person And The Best Way To Handle Them

There is nothing worse than when someone is mean to you. It can happen as an isolated event or as part of systemic bullying. Either way, it can affect your personal life if you do not understand why this happens and if you do not have coping skills to handle it.

So, continue reading to understand how to respond to a mean person. 

Identify patterns

It is not uncommon for rude behavior to be a result of a personality trait. If there is someone in your circle who is consistently rude to you, pay attention to the patterns accompanying this treatment.

Rude people are also often highly manipulative. So it’s essential to understand whether a person is only rude or are they also manipulative. Here are a few things to watch out for in a manipulative person.

  • They go for the jugular. When someone close to you knows all your weak spots and intentionally pokes at them, this is definitely toxic behavior to watch out for.
  • They talk you out of what you love. This may not feel mean in a direct way like name-calling, but it is mean. When the offending person is consistently trying to talk you out of things you love, that can make matters worse, not to mention it can result in isolation, another mean tactic.
  • Stonewalling is a classic tactic, and it is what a rude person goes for when they want to invoke meanness but know that saying nothing is going to be more effective in their quest than saying mean things.

According to the American Psychological Association, there is a measurement that can be used to measure criticism, and it also has correlations with systemic manipulation. When you are paying more attention, you will notice things you previously may not have, so be prepared for what may be a rude awakening.

Know that rude behavior is not confined to outward action or intentional rude comment. It includes personality traits as well.

how to respond to a mean person

Reasons people are mean

Before you can approach how to deal with mean people, you must first consider why they are displaying this negative behavior in the first place.

1. They lack confidence

We have all heard the classic playground explanation of ‘he is mean to you because he likes you,’ but this is very outdated and certainly not the case. Often when a rude person treats you as such, it is because they lack confidence.

They may be afraid that they are not likable enough, so they have to appear bigger, stronger, louder, and more important than others to gain a following.

2. They have control issues

Sometimes, when you are faced with a rude person, they feel a loss of control that has led them to this rude behavior. When people have an extreme need for control, namely, experiencing what they perceive as a loss of it, their bad behavior knows no bounds.

When such people are provoked, they tend to lash out in a disrespectful way that can be mean in nature, whether in their spoken words, body language, or their choices for moving forward.

3. They use meanness as a defense mechanism

This goes hand in hand with the lack of confidence. If people feel that they need to defend themselves for any reason, sometimes the tongue is the strongest muscle to accomplish this. By cutting down their offender, the rude person can avoid feeling small by making someone else feel that way instead.

4. They are scorekeepers

Scorekeeping is a mentally and emotionally dangerous aspect of human relationships that can lead to cruelty, resentment, and isolation.

If someone is a known scorekeeper, they may resort to mean strategies like pointing out where and when you have fallen short to shame you for the imbalance. This can be common among family members, unfortunately.

In some cases, the closer the relationship, the more opportunity to compare how much you have done to how little someone else has, and vice versa.

How to deal with difficult people

The first thing, and arguably the most important to recognize here, is that all you can be responsible for is your side of the fence.

There are strategies for handling rude people, but they are not foolproof and we can never truly predict how they will respond.

True, you can be the bigger person and not let a hurtful comment get to you. However, the National Institute of Mental Health suggests that caring for our mental health is as strong of a survival need as any other.

As you consider each suggestion, remind yourself to take a deep breath amid conflict and be intentional with your words and actions.

1. Do not be too defensive

Protecting your well-being and physical safety is not the same as being too defensive. While you should always protect yourself, try not to come into a situation so hot and bothered that you are too busy seeing red to be a real participant.

It is important to remain grounded, respond calmly and cautiously. This leaves you receptive but also allows you to be level headed enough to defuse the situation.

2. Know that you have little to no control

Often rude people have their own agendas, and that usually does not include considering yours.

When you are dealing with an angry person, you, for the most part, are not the one in charge. However, this is not a negative thing.

Knowing in advance of a confrontation that the other person will aim to stay on top by keeping you down will help you see clearly and enable you to make choices arising from a well-thought-out resolution or strategy and not a shotgun reaction to their toxic behavior. 

3. It’s not you; it’s them

Even when it is appropriate to assign blame when someone reaches for meanness, remember that it is not about you; it’s about them. Choose not to take a person’s rudeness personally. This is the best way to deal when someone is being rude. 

They may have something going on in their day-to-day life that manifests itself in this specific example of conflict, which has nothing to do with you.

People spend a ton of time deflecting, and the other person’s behavior may be just the distraction they need from whatever hurtful thing that they cannot seem to bring themselves to handle in their own reality.

how to respond to a mean person

4. Resist the urge to self-deprecate

Allowing a rude person to convince you that their perspective is reality is a slippery slope. Try not to use self-deprecation to diffuse tension or problems. Self-deprecating statements can look like:

  • ‘You’re right, I’m sorry, my bad’
  • ‘Ugh, I am such an idiot!’
  • ‘What was I thinking?’
  • ‘It’s no biggie; I’m fine.’

Of course, these statements all need to be associated with the proper context. There are examples of times when using these exact phrases is not damaging, but in terms of handling a difficult person, reaching for these stock sentences to defuse rudeness is not in your best interest.

5. Detach yourself

Sometimes you need to take a deep breath and remove yourself. This means mentally, physically, and emotionally.

A difficult person is unlikely to let up, which means the burden lies on you to have your own best interests in mind. This can lead to some rough days, depending on who the person is and what detachment means for the relationship.

Still, almost nothing in life is worth your sanity, especially not a chronically unkind entanglement. As such, the best response is to simply ignore it when someone says something that gets on your nerves or did something that made you feel bad.

Healthy communication strategies

Healthy communication will do nothing but serve you in many aspects of your life, and having interactions with difficult people is certainly no exception. When you find that you must have a conversation with a person who has hurt you, keep your feelings in check with the following strategies.

1. Have compassion

Try not to match someone’s energy when their energy is negative. It is a show of good character to have compassion and empathy throughout the conflict and conduct yourself in a manner that you can be proud of when you walk away from the interaction.

Even when the result is less than desirable, you can always feel proud that you considered how your words and actions will impact the other party, no matter if they extended the same courtesy or not.

2. Be assertive

You are your own biggest and best advocate, so do not forget that. It is your job to create a positive environment for your own well-being.

When your natural tendency is to avoid conflict, it can be easy to fold under pressure, but you must learn how to use your words to stand your ground.

Additionally, a large piece of communicative assertion is the timing of how you resolve an issue. It is not assertive to let a significant amount of time pass by when you feel that you want to have a discussion with a rude individual about their behavior.

3. Talk in person when possible

So much can get lost in translation when we use almost every other form of communication other than a face-to-face conversation. Specifically, when you elect to use written technology, like texting, or email, you run the risk of the other person misinterpreting your tone, intentions, and overall perception of the matter.

Speaking in person also allows the other person’s point to come across clearly. There is always a chance that they just had a momentary lapse in judgment that caused them to act in a way that affected you badly.

4. Use ‘I’ statements

Bear in mind that your goal is to share how you feel and not necessarily what you think about the character of the outside parties involved. By using ‘I’ statements, you can keep yourself on task and also own how you feel in an authentic way.

Mean people may hear your words as weapons no matter what, and that is on them. Here are a few examples of healthy ‘I’ statements:

  • ‘I feel frustrated when I am the target of a Facebook post.’
  • ‘I feel disappointed when I am not given a chance to speak for myself.’
  • ‘I welcome a conversation about this bad experience.’
  • ‘I feel upset when I am constantly told I am wrong.’

The more practice you have with ‘I’ statements, the more they will become second nature. Be sure that you understand how to formulate a healthy one, though, and not one that unintentionally accuses another person of something.

5. Stay on topic

When you have an extended history and multiple examples of mean behavior from the same person, you still need to stay on topic when you are trying to diffuse a specific situation.

Grouping together days, months, and even years, of angry feelings will not get someone to respond to you in a way that facilitates forward movement.

Should you cut them out of your life?

Permanently removing someone from your life should not be a decision that you come to lightly.

Think about what making this significant decision will mean for yourself and anyone else who it may impact. That is not to say that you should or should not do it because of other people. However in all healthy decision-making strategies, you must weigh the pros and cons.

If detaching from someone completely is out of the question, you may want to set boundaries instead.

In some extreme examples, you also need to think about how cutting someone out of your life will impede your physical safety. Know when it is appropriate to have professional intervention and do not shy away from utilizing it when needed.


There is much to consider, even though the act of being mean can sometimes seem like such a superficial issue.

Know your worth and that you do not have to roll over and take it when someone mistreats you, just to keep the peace. Your inner peace matters, and in many ways, when that is off-balance, you run a more considerable risk of a personal setback than you would if you braved confronting your bullies.

Be assured as well that you do not have to handle these situations alone. There are resources available to you like:

  • Support groups
  • Professional therapists
  • Trustworthy family and friends
  • Books, podcasts, and online seminars

All of the above can help you come out on top of a tough time. There is no road map for guaranteed success and how you get to where you need to be regarding the mean people in your life is a path that you get to create for yourself.

Try not to lose hope if one remedy or one situation does not go your way.

If there’s one thing you should take away from this article, let it be that you only have authority over yourself. So, as long as you manage your intentions and actions in a healthy and respectful way, even if the result is not what you intended, you can feel satisfied with the process and how you handled it.

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